Jon Fitch is the Rodney Dangerfield of mixed martial arts: he gets "no respect."
After getting cut from the first season of The Ultimate Fighter at the last minute by the show’s producers, he was forced to take the long road to the pinnacle of the sport. His treacherous journey was filled with one under card fight after the next. It would also be one victory after the next, including wins over top flight welterweights like Josh Burkman, Brock Larson, Thiago Alves and Diego Sanchez.
UFC brass finally took noticed after he won eight UFC fights in a row (15 straight overall), which tied him with Royce Gracie’s all-time record for consecutive UFC wins (a record that was later broken by Anderson Silva at UFC 97).
It was only then that he was deemed qualified enough and marketable enough to be issued a shot at welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre -- many other fighters have earned title shots accomplishing much less.
UFC 87 did not go as planned, however, with Fitch losing a five-round unanimous decision to "Rush" back in August 2008. It was his first loss ever at 170 pounds in his professional career, which began back in July 2002. His other two career losses were fought at the 205-pound light heavyweight limit.
Fitch regrouped and won in dominating fashion over Pride FC veteran Akihiro Gono at UFC 94 via unanimous decision. He was once again relegated to the under card for this event.
That's not the case in his next fight -- Fitch is set to battle young Brazilian Paulo Thiago at UFC 100 at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas, Nevada, on July 11. It's one more important step in his journey back to another potential shot at the title.
Naturally, it won't be easy -- few fights are on the loaded UFC welterweight class. Thiago is coming off a knockout victory over Fitch’s American Kickboxing Academy (AKA) teammate, Josh Koscheck, at UFC 95, which marked his Octagon debut. He'll be out to make it two straight in the UFC and against AKA on fight night.
Fitch took some time out of his busy schedule to discuss The Ultimate Fighter, nicknames, MMA in Indiana, cartoons, and, of course, Paulo Thiago.
Check it out:
Derek Bolender (MMAmania.com): I want to go back to the casting of The Ultimate Fighter 1 season. A lot of people may not be aware just how close you were to becoming a contestant on the show. Talk a little bit about how that played out for you and how they ultimately came to their decision.
Jon Fitch: I went through the whole process and everything. I was ready to go quit my job. I told my friends and family that I was getting ready to go. I was actually at the airport waiting to get on the plane. I only had about 15 minutes until boarding started. I got a phone call from one of the producers. He pretty much said, "Sorry but we reformatted the show and we don’t have room for you so don’t get on the plane."
Derek Bolender (MMAmania.com): Everyone knows you had to tie Royce Gracie’s consecutive wins record before they gave you a title shot against Georges St. Pierre. Do you think that since you weren’t on the TUF show it was a disadvantage to you in the following years as far as marketability and popularity goes?
Jon Fitch: Yeah anyone who has been on The Ultimate Fighter has had a huge advantage in exposure that’s for sure. I fought a lot of dark matches on the under cards. It was pretty much impossible for most people to have been able to watch my fighting and my progression and know anything about me.
Derek Bolender (MMAmania.com): I want to move forward to the night of UFC 94. Before your fight your opponent Akihiro Gono and his cornermen are dressed in evening gowns like they’re going to prom. At what point did you take notice and what was going through your head?
Jon Fitch: We were getting staged to get called to the cage and, you know, there is a little tunnel. People might not know this but you’re right there with your opponent in that area. There is not much distance between us.
We walked around the corner and we started approaching since he was announced first and at the tunnel already. I started noticing some dresses. I was like, "What the hell are these ring girls doing? Why don’t they have their normal ring girl outfits on? What’s going on?"
I noticed the big hair and stuff like that and I was like, "Oh shit, that’s Gono and his guys." I kind of put my head down and started looking at the floor. I didn’t want to start laughing at that time. I wanted to stay focused. I made sure not to watch his entrance just because I didn’t want to start laughing too hard.
Derek Bolender (MMAmania.com): Do you think they were trying to psyche you out or that’s just how those guys roll?
Jon Fitch: He’s been in the business for so long he’s an entertainer. It’s just one of the things he likes to do is make an entrance out of it. He has fun with fighting and that’s the way it should be. I have more respect for guys that can make fun of themselves and do stuff like that than the guys who pretend to be tough guys or hard asses and put on a mean face.
Derek Bolender (MMAmania.com): I spoke with your teammate Mike Swick a couple weeks ago. He told me how you guys used to watch Maury Povich a lot in between training sessions when you were roommates?
Jon Fitch: We lived together for about seven months. We’d get done training about two o’clock. We’d get home and shower and everything and have our lunch and it would be time to watch Maury and the "who’s not the father episodes" would be on.
Derek Bolender (MMAmania.com): What else are you watching these days? UFC Unleashed? O’Reilly Factor?
Jon Fitch: I watch a lot of cartoons; Futurama, Family Guy, Metalocalypse, Robot Chicken. There are a bunch of good ones on Cartoon Network.
Derek Bolender (MMAmania.com): Does that mean you’re a South Park guy too?
Jon Fitch: Yeah for sure.
Derek Bolender (MMAmania.com): Please tell me you’ve seen the Maury Povich South Park episode then?
Jon Fitch: "Boy with balls on chin." Oh yeah!
Derek Bolender (MMAmania.com): I’ve always wondered about this. Let’s say you want to watch UFC 101. Does the UFC make you buy the event on pay-per-view if you want to view it at home?
Jon Fitch: Yeah if I wanted to watch it at home I’d have to pay for it. Luckily I’m in a position where I can usually get some money out of somebody to make an appearance locally.
I’ll have guys over at my house sometimes and I’ll get it just so the younger guys (AKA teammates) can watch it. We don’t just watch. We try to breakdown fights too. We try to think about why certain things happen in certain fights and what techniques are working and which ones aren’t.
Derek Bolender (MMAmania.com): I wanted to ask you if you have a favorite catchphrase that Mike Goldberg or Joe Rogan use time and time again or is there one thing they always say about you that makes you laugh?
Jon Fitch: No, I’m fighting so I don’t really know anything about what they say. I don’t really hear them. Probably the greatest thing Joe has ever said on the air was "Goat’s vagina." I can’t remember what he was talking about but it was something about a goat’s vagina.
Derek Bolender (MMAmania.com): You’re officially a UFC veteran at this point but still no nickname. I heard one of your training partners Jake Shields say recently that he’s been trying to avoid one his whole career. Are you trying to do the same?
Jon Fitch: I just don’t think there is a reason for having one. The really sad thing is that guys give themselves a nickname. I think that is the most pathetic thing someone could ever do, give themselves a nickname.
A nickname is something that should come from your teammates or your friends. It should be something you don’t like really. I can’t just show up one day and tell everyone to call me "Cobra." It’s something I don’t need and nothing has ever really stuck. I think I just have a strong name as it is and it’s easy to remember. Just Jon Fitch is enough for people.
Derek Bolender (MMAmania.com): What about "Jock" Fitch? You like that?
Jon Fitch: (laughs) I think I’ll just wait until people start calling me "Champ."
Derek Bolender (MMAmania.com): Going back to Swick. What did you think of his performance against Ben Saunders at UFC 99? Did it pretty much go like you expected it to?
Jon Fitch: Yeah it did. We weren’t really expecting Saunders to take him down quite as fast and hold him down as much as he was trying, but we had a good idea on how that fight was going to go and Mike did a great job.
Derek Bolender (MMAmania.com): You have probably heard by now that the state of Indiana is now sanctioning MMA as of June 1. How excited are you about the possibility of fighting close to where you grew up and went to school?
Jon Fitch: It’s awesome. I’m super pumped about it. In fact, I’m going to head back to Indiana after my fight and put on a couple free seminars and a couple open workouts for the media at my buddies gym in Lafayette and at a gym I found in Ft. Wayne also.
Derek Bolender (MMAmania.com): Do you still consider yourself a Hoosier at heart or have you officially "Gone Hollywood" on us Jon?
Jon Fitch: I’m still a country boy. When I was living in Indiana I didn’t think I was a country boy until I got out to California and I realized how country I was. I’m still a simple person at heart. The materialistic crap that goes along with the west coast I’m not into at all.
I think it throws a lot of people off because people approach me about making money and stuff like that and even with sponsors and things. I’m more concerned with quality of products and whether or not I actually use them rather than how much they’re willing to pay me to say I use it.
Derek Bolender (MMAmania.com): Your next opponent is Paulo Thiago at UFC 100. He’s still a bit of a mystery at this point. What do you know about him as far as his strengths and weaknesses?
Jon Fitch: He’s scrappy. That’s the biggest thing about him. He’s a really scrappy guy. He can come in at different angles than you’re used to. He can do things he’s really not supposed to and still get away with it. I have to be very careful and very tight with my technique and keep some good pressure on him but I can’t get into that risk game.
Derek Bolender (MMAmania.com): Your teammate Josh Koscheck fought him at UFC 95. Has he helped you out a lot as far as what you can expect to see from Paulo?
Jon Fitch: We couldn’t really get much out of that fight. It was a short fight. Koscheck was doing a good job and winning the fight up until he got caught. You can’t learn a lot from it but we we’re able to catch some videos of him and see some other fights and get a perspective of what he’s about.
Derek Bolender (MMAmania.com): If you’re fortunate enough to get past Paulo do you feel like that will be enough to earn you another title shot against the Georges St. Pierre/Thiago Alves winner?
Jon Fitch: I might need another fight. Thiago and GSP are fighting the same night. I’d like to fight again sooner than probably they’re going to be ready to after that fight. It depends on the bosses and what they say. I know that I need at least one or two more impressive wins, not just normal victories, and I know I’ll put myself right back into a title shot.
Derek Bolender (MMAmania.com): Who do you like in the GSP/Alves fight?
Jon Fitch: I’m not going to make a prediction on the fight. I will just say that I want GSP to win because he’s the guy that I want to fight for the belt.
Derek Bolender (MMAmania.com): One of the UFC 100 fights that isn’t getting a lot of attention is the Joe Rogan/Bruce Buffer exhibition match at the UFC Fan Expo. Who are you putting your money on (Note: This was an April Fools joke)?
Jon Fitch: Oh really? I haven’t heard anything about that. I don’t know if Buffer trains much. I know Rogan has some jiu-jitsu so I might have to go with Rogan on that one.
Derek Bolender (MMAmania.com): Well Jon that’s all I had for you. Would you like to pass along anything to your fans out there or thank any sponsors?
Jon Fitch: Check out FitchFighter.com and MMAInstructional.com. They can learn how to fight like me, from me, and also from Spencer Fisher, Frankie Edgar, Dave Camarillo, and Dan Camarillo. It’s a great Web site and great resource if you don’t have a lot of good instructors nearby.
Derek Bolender (MMAmania.com): Thanks Jon. I appreciate the time. Best of luck at UFC 100 and we’ll run you down again soon.
Jon Fitch: Alright, cool man.
Derek Bolender is a staff writer for InsideFights.com. He is also syndicated at FoxSports.com. Follow him at Twitter.com/DerekMMAwriter and on Facebook. Look for future articles from him on MMAmania.com.